The Preamble to our Constitution (in brief, 'Preamble') is more than just 63 words perfectly arranged and catalogued (in a certain way) in some normative sentences; most importantly, it is all about the democratic aspirations and ideals of the people of India (I. C. Golaknath & Ors vs State of Punjab & Anrs. 1967 SCR 2). It is pertinent to note that the Preamble does not subscribe to the ideology and philosophy practised by one section of the society, even if that section happens to be in a majority. However, it does not mean that the values enshrined in the Preamble discard the value systems of minority sections.
Our Preamble is staggeringly different from many other Preambles which we get to see (of other nations). It does not take the tribulation on itself to derive aspirations from Religion, God, Identity etc. It particularises and promises to ensure Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and Justice to the people of India, and that's about it. The Preamble clears the air that the people of India have resolved to secure to all its citizens Social, Economic and Political Justice,
It is not the case that Identity, Religion, or God are not/should not be important to us, it's just that our Preamble makes room for us to choose for ourselves, our God, our History, our Faith and most importantly, to own our thoughts. This resolution has been made by people of the nation solemnly, and not by invoking any divine or spiritual power. In-fact, the Constitution treats Believer, atheist and agnostic alike, as it doesn't differentiate on trivial issues.
What did the Preamble mean to Constituent assembly?
The Drafting Committee of the Constitution of India had observed and was aware of the fact that the Preamble should be limited to defining the important features of the new nation and the socio-political objectives must be imbibed in the most important text of the Constitution i.e., the Preamble.
It is very clear from the mere reading of the Preamble that the ultimate and conclusive objective of the framers of the Constitution was to give birth to an introduction (to the Constitution of India) which mirrors the possible and definitive ideals of a welfare state and an egalitarian society.
By necessary implication, the text of the Preamble had to include in itself, the aims and aspirations of the people of India who sacrificed their lives for the attainment of the country's independence. Before going further, let's first read the bare text of our preamble. The Preamble reads:
"WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity;
and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;
IN OUR CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY this twenty-sixth day of November, 1949, do HEREBY ADOPT, ENACT AND GIVE TO OURSELVES THIS CONSTITUTION."
The original text of our Preamble as adopted by the Constituent Assembly in the year 1949 declared India as a "Sovereign Democratic Republic". Through the 42nd Constitutional Amendment of 1976, which was enacted during the infamous Emergency days, the words "Socialist" and "Secular" were also added to the preamble (It is said that the then Prime Minister, Indira Gandhi was keen to prove that her Government was true to the spirit of the Constitution).
The Indira Gandhi Government endeavoured to reassure that the minorities in the country would be safe and the moneyed class would not dominate the economy. The preamble as we see now, reads - "SOVEREIGN SOCIALIST SECULAR DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC". It is worth noting that the purpose of introducing the two words by the Indira Gandhi Government may have been cynical, but they did make explicit the commitments the nation had already made to its people as well as to itself.
Utility of Preamble
The Preamble/Aims/Objectives of any Bill/Act is an introductory part of that document, which goes on to explain the purpose, logic, and philosophy of that particular document. A preamble sets the tone of the introduction to a document, highlighting the principles and fundamental values of the document. It canvasses the source of the document's authority.
However, the case with the Preamble is slightly different. In fact, the text of the Preamble doesn't consist of mere flourish words but they set the tone of an ideal atmosphere for practice and observance as a matter of law through Constitutional mechanism (Similar remarks were made in the case of Indra Sawhney Vs. Union of India 1992 Supp. (3) SCC 217). In the case of Preamble, it is special because the edifice of our Constitution is built upon the concepts crystallised in the Preamble (Minerva Mills Ltd. & Ors vs Union Of India & Ors 1981 SCR (1) 206).
In the case of Berubari Union Case AIR 1960 SC 845, the Supreme Court held that the Preamble is not a part of the Constitution, but it should be considered as a guiding principle for the provisions enshrined under the Constitution.
However, in the case of Kesavananda Bharti v. State of Kerala AIR 1973 SC 1461, the Supreme Court rightly rejected this idea and held that the Preamble is very much a part of the Constitution. This Judgment implies that through the route of Article 368 of the Constitution, the Parliament can amend the Preamble. However, in the same case, it was further propounded that through the route of Article 368, the basic structure of the Constitution cannot be altered.
Later on, in the case of Smt. Indira Nehru Gandhi Vs. Shri Raj Narain 1975 (Supp) SCC 1, the Supreme Court attempted to further outline the importance of the Preamble. This Judgment was quite impactful as it supplied due importance to the Preamble. The Constitution Bench, in this case observed that Preamble is the source of any basic feature (of the Constitution) thus ensuring that it is revered, honoured and admired widely by people (and Governments) at large.
Moreover, in the case of Jacob M. Puthuparambil & Ors Vs. Kerala Water Authority & Ors 1990 SCR Supl. (1) 562 Hon'ble Supreme Court observed that while the Preamble promises socio-economic justice to all, the fundamental rights under part III of the Constitution confer certain justiciable socio-economic rights. Apart from that, the Directive Principles of State Policy occurring under part IV of the Constitution aim to fix the socio-economic goals which the State must strive to attain. The court went on to say that these 3 together constitute the core and conscience of the Constitution.
The limitation of the Preamble is that no ordinary legislation can be struck down just because it goes against the values contained in the Preamble. While it is true that such values form the very basis of existence of all the Fundamental Rights, and it may be the case that such a legislation (or some of its features) infringes the guaranteed fundamental rights, but unless and until such a legislation or its provisions contravene the guaranteed fundamental rights themselves (and not just the Preamble) they won't be held unconstitutional.
We must also remember that it is a well-established rule of interpretation that what is contrary to the Constitution cannot be justified with reference to the preamble and values enshrined therein. It is also pertinent to note that the Preamble cannot be regarded as a source of prohibition or limitation on the power a legislature as held in the case of Raghunathrao Ganpatrao vs Union Of India 1993 SCR (1) 480.
Nature of the Preamble and Supreme Court's view on Preamble
As many of us know, the Preamble is based on the Objective Resolution introduced by Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly on December 13, 1946. The Constituent Assembly held its first meeting on 9th December, 1946 and on 13th December, 1946 it moved this resolution. The foremost purpose of passing this resolution was to declare the aims and purposes of the Constituent Assembly in clear terms. It is remarkable that by doing so, the assembly didn't just set the highest standards for itself, but for the ages to come. This resolution was finally adopted on 22 January, 1947.
The Preamble has been called the soul of the Constitution of India (and rightly so) because every particular detail and characteristic about the ideals of our Constitution could be traced back to the Preamble. It is needless to say that the Preamble must act as the guide/key to the understanding of the Constitution and what makers of the Constitution had in their mind while framing the Constitution (Berubari case). The preamble was adopted on November 26, 1949, but was ultimately implemented from January 26, 1950, the day which we also know today as Republic Day.
To talk about the nature of Preamble, we can categorically say that the Preamble is an epitome of those attributes, which appear in various articles of the Constitution and such features are guiding principles for the Governments as well. The makers of the Constitution were well aware of the fact that preamble must bear the stamp of extensive deliberation and should be marked by ultra-precision and rigorousness.
We can say that the Preamble to the Constitution of India is a brief introductory statement that sets out the guiding purpose, principles and philosophy of the Constitution. In the case of Kuldip Nayar & Ors Vs. Union of India & Ors (2006) 7 SCC 1 Supreme Court held that the Preamble is an integral part of the Constitution.
In the case of I. C. Golaknath case (supra) judges Constitution Bench of Hon'ble Supreme Court (Per Majority) held that "It (The Preamble) contains in a nutshell, its (The Constitution) ideals and its aspirations. The preamble is not a platitude but the, mode of its realisation is worked out in detail in the Constitution."
Important words and their meanings present in the Preamble
There are several words which appear in the Preamble but they cannot be explained objectively. However, we can very well have an idea about what do they mean and what purpose do they serve. In this section, we will talk about such words and the plain understanding of such words coupled with their interpretation as put forth by the Supreme Court through various landmark decisions.
'We, the people of India': The phrase "We, the people of India" emphasizes that this constitution is created by and for the people of India, thus implying that no external power has given this Constitution to us (unlike the act of 1935). In other words, it means that we have created the Constitution for ourselves through our own efforts and by our own people.
Sovereign: Our Constitution also emphasizes the concept of 'Sovereignty'. By the word 'Sovereign', we mean that all power emanates from the people of India and India's political system will be accountable and responsible only to the people of this country. The insertion of this word also meant that the Constituent assembly was not bound by limitations which were imposed on it by the Cabinet Mission Plan of 1946 or otherwise. In a way, it was a declaration that the Assembly has the power to outweigh any kind of limitations imposed on it by external powers.
In the case of Synthetic & Chemicals Ltd. vs. State of Uttar Pradesh 1989 SCR Supl. (1) 623, the Supreme Court explained that the word 'Sovereign' means that the State has the freedom to do everything within the restrictions imposed by the Grund norm i.e., the Constitution. When we talk about the exercise of sovereign power, it means that the State has the sufficient authority to enact any law/rule/regulation to discharge its functions; however, the authority is subject to the limitations set by the Constitution.
In this case, the Court held, "The sovereign power is plenary and inherent in every sovereign State to do all things which promote the health, peace, morals, education and good order of the people. This power of sovereignty is, however, subject to Constitutional limitations. This power, according to some constitutional authorities, is to the public what necessity is to the individual." The importance of Sovereignty lies in the fact that no nation can have its constitution unless it is Sovereign.
'Socialist': The term "Socialist" was added in the year 1976 by the 42nd Constitution Amendment. 'Socialism' can be understood as an economic philosophy whereby the means of production and distribution of resources fall under the authority of State. However, as we know, India has adopted a model of 'Mixed Economy', whereby the production work, apart from the state, can be carried out by people in the private sector and they can have limited ownership over the resources as well. So it is safe to say that India doesn't follow the traditional concept of Socialism.
As we pointed out in the beginning, it is very difficult to explain what exactly is Socialism? It could mean many different things to different people and thinkers. Different people have a different conceptual understanding of it. The concept of Socialism or a Socialist State has undergone several changes from time to time, from country to country and from thinker to thinker.
However, there are some fundamental concepts related to the term which can never become offbeat. In the Indian scenario, Socialism is a politico-economic system that provides Social, Economic and Political Justice. Socialism, in the form of Socialist Philosophy, lays greater emphasis on Democratic Socialism.
It is a popular misconception that Dr Ambedkar didn't want India to be a socialist nation. The fact is that he did imagine a socialist model for the Constitution. He always believed that if there is no socialist model in place, it would be impossible to affect the downtrodden section of the society (Untouchables/Dalits/poor) in a positive way.
He advocated in favour of uplifting the economic status of a person. He also believed that Economic progress of an individual would be possible only through a system of state control and not through a system of privatization. However, the reason why he opposed the insertion of the word Socialist in the preamble was that he wanted the future generations to decide for themselves, the course of their economy.
In the case of Minerva Mills Ltd. (supra.), the Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court explained that we may find the concept of Socialism incorporated in the Directive Principles of State Policy. Court held that "We resolved to constitute ourselves into a Socialist State which carried with it the obligation to secure to our people justice-social, economic and political. We, therefore, put Part IV into our Constitution containing directive principles of State policy which specify the socialistic goal to be achieved."
We must not forget that while the Constituent Assembly chose not to insert the word 'Socialist' in the Preamble, the Indira Gandhi Government did that in 1976. However 15 years later (in 1991) the economic policy of our country witnessed drastic changes. In 1991, the Indian government adopted privatisation (instead of state ownership) and that is why the existence of the word 'Socialist' in the Preamble is often debated.
'Secular': The meaning which the word Secularism as occurring in the Preamble entails is - the State will have no religion of its own and all its people will be equally entitled to the freedom of their conscience and may adopt, practice and propagate the religion of their choice. In the case of S. R. Bommai v. Union of India 1994 SCC (3) 1, a 9-judge bench of the apex court had highlighted the concept of Secularism as a core feature of the Constitution.
'Democratic': This word indicates that the Constitution has established a form of government which derives its authority from the will of the people. The Ruler/Government in power will be elected by the people and he/it shall be responsible to them. Significantly, the words 'Democratic' and 'Republic' should be understood together rather than theorizing them separately.
As held in the case of R.C. Poudyal And Anr. vs Union Of India And Ors. 1993 SCR (1) 891, in our Constitution, Democratic-Republic means 'people's powers'. It is related to the actual, active and effective exercise of power by the people. In fact, Democracy is a multi-faceted system; it refers to the political participation of the people in running the administration of the government. It describes the state of affairs and rule of law under which, every citizen has been assured the right to equal participation in the polity. The same proposition has been discussed in the case of Mohan Lal Tripathi v. District Magistrate 1992 SCR (3) 338.
Republic: Unlike a monarchy, where the head of state is appointed on a hereditary basis to keep the power to rule for a lifetime, a Democratic-Republic is a system of polity whereby the head of state is elected (directly or indirectly) for a fixed term, through the participation of state subjects. As we know, there is no bar to a citizen being elected to any public office. Every citizen of India is eligible to become the President or Prime Minister of the country.
Preamble: A much needed reminder?
Recently, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh Governments have issued orders to make the reading of Preamble compulsory in Schools. Rajasthan Government has also issued orders to Rajasthan State Textbook Board to print the Preamble on the first page of all the textbooks from Class 1 to 12. Not just that, in the wake of CAA-NRC-NPR protests, the Preamble has been read by people in large numbers at many public places. It is quite an interesting trend which we are witnessing. Public recitation of the Preamble doesn't sound like a bad idea; rather, such attempts would act as a timely reminder for the Conscience of the Nation.
The Preamble is the best way through which we can continuously remind ourselves the aspirations of the people of not just the Constituent assembly but also the people who could not live enough to witness an India which is free of external dominance. In the end, it is important to recognise the Preamble as the very basis of our existence. It is the starting point of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity and it goes on to solidify our independent aspirations.